Freeskiers to fly at Fenway Park
Coming off an Olympic year in 2014, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) made a conscious effort to try to keep its momentum in the post-Olympic 2015 season.
Though recent Olympic cycles have seen dips in the USSA’s revenue, television ratings for winter sports and also in athlete medal counts, 2015 bucked that trend and ended up being a banner year for Team USA.
In 2015, U.S. athletes earned 18 World Championship medals, 13 X Games medals, 88 World Cup podiums, 55 major-event podiums, nine World Cup crystal globes and 15 Junior Worlds medals. Additionally, after 17.5 million viewers tuned in to winter broadcasts in 2014, that number jumped to 23.7 million in the 2015 season, according to a presentation by USSA’s Chief Marketing Officer Mike Jaquet at this year’s USSA Partner Summit at the Center of Excellence in Park City.
The Partner Summit continues to grow alongside the USSA. Executive Vice President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner said the Summit is a great way to get all of USSA’s sponsors together in one room and cultivate excitement for the upcoming winter season.
"It’s really important to have everybody here," he said. "This has become a really big event for us because it brings a lot of energy across our partner group. They’re able to spend a lot of time here at the Center of Excellence both networking among themselves and also talking with each other about how they can contribute to lifting the profile of skiing and snowboarding for all of our benefits. When they take that collective approach and share ideas about how they individually as a corporation are going to promote the sport more, that kind of lifts all our boats."
Though the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are still two and a half years away, Bodensteiner said it’s not too soon to start looking ahead and preparing for the Games. He said one of the goals of the Partner Summit is to keep building that momentum as the Olympics draw closer.
"We really consider this to be a pre-Olympic year," he said. "The campaign into Pyeongchang is already underway. Last season was really a focus on maintaining the performance of our top athletes, but also bringing the level of performance of some of our younger athletes up into what we call a podium-potential position. This season, we’re focused less on peaking strategies and more on season-long, consistent performance and deepening our teams."
With the 2015-16 winter season calendar lacking events like World Championships and the Olympics, Bodensteiner said it will be a great season for looking at data and starting to form a picture of what the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team will look like.
"The goal remains ‘Best in the World,’" he said. "This coming season, there are no World Championships in many of our sports, so we don’t have that to benchmark against. But we are doing a lot of competitive data analytics right now that is giving us a really good sense of if we have the right number of athletes in positions to win. Those are metrics we’ll be diving into deeply this year."
Big air comes to Fenway Park
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of Thursday’s Partner Summit was the announcement of a skiing and snowboarding big air competition at Fenway Park in Boston Feb. 11-12.
With big air snowboarding recently added to the 2018 Olympic program, USSA wants to showcase both the snowboarders and skiers with the hopes of getting big-air skiing added to the 2018 Olympics, too.
2014 slopestyle skiing gold medalist Joss Christensen, who also competes in big-air events, said it makes a lot of sense to have skiing big air alongside snowboard big air in Olympic competition.
"They added snowboarding about a month and a half ago and I think the public would really like to watch skiing, too," he said. "In the X Games, it’s one of the most-watched events."
Christensen said he hopes the event in Boston showcases how much fun the big-air skiing athletes have and helps persuade the International Olympic Committee to add the sport to the 2018 Games.
"It’d be a bummer if it didn’t get in, but at the same time, it’d just mean we’d have to push harder after this Games to get it in the next one," he said. "Hopefully we can make a good push for it to happen in the  Olympics, though. I’d really like to participate in it and I think two Games is a little far for me."
For now, though, Christensen will focus his energy on the Fenway Park event. The Park City native is no stranger to jumping in big stadiums.
"We already have a bunch of stadium big-air events during the season," he said. "Last year, they added skiing to Air + Style, which is a huge big-air snowboard event. I think this year they’re going to hopefully add us to multiple stops for Air + Style and not just one. If we have these World Cup big airs happen as well, that’ll be huge to show that people will show up and watch our sport."
Christensen referred to the Air + Style event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, last season, where he said he had a blast jumping in front of a stadium full of people.
"It’s pretty crazy," he said. "It’s cool to be in these stadiums where skiing isn’t supposed to be. Showing up during the event and seeing the actual scaffolding and structure up, it’s wild — it’s huge. It’s a lot different of a venue than we’re used to — you’re in a stadium where the seats will fill up, instead of having people standing at the bottom of a snow course. It’s rad."
The big-air ramp at Fenway will be 110-feet tall and will run from center field to home plate. The event can be seen live on NBC Sports Network.
Park City Mountain Resort is scheduled to start limited summer operations on Saturday, including the operation of PayDay lift for hikers and bikers.